Piano AndThe City. Dreamway (Jason Randall Smith)

Russian pianist and composer Olga Stankevich has a history with music that stretches back to her childhood.  It is one that has tested her on many an occasion, whether learning as a student at her conservatory or partaking in a local music competition.  While only in her teens, she traveled throughout Europe as part of an orchestra and even returned to her music college to teach.  Her songwriting has led her to combine the discipline of classical with the accessibility of pop music on Piano and the City: Dreamway.  Stankevich displays exceptional skill throughout this album as a pianist and it’s her performance that keeps the listener engaged even though some selections may not.

While this certainly isn’t the first time that classical themes have been married to electronic dance music, there are certain subgenres that can be more problematic than others.  The subgenre of trance is always a dangerous place to go looking for intriguing ideas.  It is music that only concerns itself with getting from point A to point B in the most direct route possible while making you move your body on the way there.  However, this is exactly what makes Stankevich’s formal training such an integral part of this project.  As “Contiguity” opens the album, the listener is presented with the basic formula for most of the other compositions.  The percussive chug of electronic beats and bass pulses wouldn’t add up to much on their own, but they underlie a slightly mournful melody from Stankevich that remains expressive and dramatic.  Her piano carries these tunes and keeps them from being discarded from memory.

Perhaps a better introductory point is the first single, “Inspiration.”  While its overall structure might seem somewhat basic, its upbeat tempo and stirring piano are enough to pique the listener’s interest.  The Justin Fry Radio Edit increases the tempo and adds an extra punch to the original.  The kick drum feels more insistent on the remix and the inclusion of keyboard sweeps towards its conclusion builds the tension.  “Ballet In <<Trash>> Style” is perhaps the most instantly engaging track on the album.  Stepping away from a trance-pop framework, the song opens with a jagged syncopation that immediately separates it from the others.  Tickling the lower register of the ivories, Stankevich supplies a haunting element to this tune as a tambourine insistently shakes.  Although the song’s title is perhaps an acknowledgement that supporters of “serious music” would scoff at such experimentation, it represents the most successful integration of classical and electronic music on this album.

“Rain” can be counted as another standout, its introduction bursting with a rapid succession of notes that cascade across a high-energy workout rhythm.  During its breakdown, an audience can be heard in the distance cheering and clapping in sync as Stankevich reprises the main theme on the piano.  “Rhythm Of Heart” shifts the dynamics with beats that lean towards a hip-hop influence, causing a slight head nod of approval.  “The Flight” opens with a light, skittering percussion break that unfolds into a mid-tempo march, surrounded by synthesized brushstrokes and a staccato bass tone.

Fans of trance will more than likely be pleased with Piano and the City: Dreamway and the DJ community has already started to offer both club and remix support.  Those looking for more sophisticated movements from dance music may come for the pounding beat, but will stay for Stankevich’s unquestionably masterful piano performance.  Her superior technicality deserves to be on full display in a solo piano recording, which is something that we will hopefully see from her in the future.  As for her debut album, the infusion of classical music doesn’t make trance any less predictable, but you can’t blame Olga Stankevich for wanting to try.

Jason Randall Smith